IN LIVING COLOR
A Mother’s Vision for Redesigning Life
Michelle Cloney is an inventor and a business owner, and just like her funfunctional® brand, she’s figured out a way to not only survive as a single mom, she also knows how to enjoy life through creative expression and design. And she’s donating a portion of her company earnings to help disenfranchised women start over. She understands their journey. She lived it.
Less than five years ago, Michelle found herself disconnected from her family in Virginia, living in a 240 square-foot Los Angeles bungalow and struggling to make ends meet. She was also involved in an abusive relationship…which resulted in a pregnancy.
Although she desired to experience a grounded and loving partnership while living in Southern California, Michelle ended up in a relationship riddled with mind games, dishonesty and abuse. She admits, “I knew I was with someone who terrified me, I was a fragment of myself. I kept finding evidence that he was dating someone else, I felt as if I didn’t exist. I bought into it all, I didn’t even feel like a person.”
And Michelle is not afraid of living life. With a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Virginia and a print and TV journalism background working in New York, London and Washington, D.C., she has traveled the world and enjoyed relationships with people from many walks of life. But while living in Los Angeles, she found herself in circumstances of isolation and fear. Relying on state support for health care in CA, she recalls going for pregnancy check-ups alone to overcrowded facilities. “I felt such compassion for all of the women who needed help. They felt like my friends in the waiting room.”
Then one day, Michelle ended up with sciatica (low back and leg pain as a result of pressure on the sciatic nerve), and she could barely drive to the doctor alone. Feeling completely alienated, she realized she was running out of resources. Michelle recalls, “although I didn’t fit the typical profile, I easily could have been pregnant and homeless.”
In that moment, she made a decision to move back to Virginia, as she knew she needed to be near family. “I never wanted to move back home, but with the sciatica, I knew I wanted to go somewhere I belonged. I didn’t know what else to do when I was five months pregnant and couldn’t support myself.”
In a nurturing and encouraging environment, Michelle’s life completely changed. “My parents have helped support me. Many people don’t have families to support them, and women often feel like they don’t have a choice to leave and to know they will be OK.”
Soon after she gave birth to her daughter, Michelle was inspired to create Le bibble®, an eco-friendly baby bottle bib to make feeding cleaner, easier and more fun. Sold in nearly 250 stores worldwide in 18 countries, Le bibble® is the top-seller of funfunctional® and is the source of her financial investment in Le village stylists, Michelle’s giveback initiative to support mothers and children in need.
As a professional organizer with a home staging license and an affinity for decorating, Michelle’s personal experience has inspired her to create Le Village stylists to help homeless moms and children who are trying to start over. “There are so many women who face domestic violence, whether emotional or physical, who don’t have a family or support system who can help them get back on their feet. But everyone deserves that, and everyone deserves the right to raise their child in a safe and loving home.”
Le village stylists are room makeover professionals who decorate transitional housing units for those who are learning how to re-stabilize and become independent. Michelle has partnered with Homestretch, a Virginia non-profit organization created to empower homeless families with children by attaining permanent housing and self-sufficiency. Over half of the Homestretch families are women who have survived domestic violence.
“I know how healing a space can be, feeling safe is so important. Providing a sense of self-worth is vital. I use colors with healing properties,” explains Michelle. A team of volunteers lead by Michelle, Le village stylists donate all of their time and resources. Michelle describes herself as a bargain shopper, and with the continued growth and success of Le bibble®, she plans to increase her investment in Le village stylists each year.
Michelle’s vision has always been one of a global village or family, and her goal is to spread awareness to empower women in unsafe environments. Nominated for a Fairfax County Service Award in 2012, her public support is growing, and she’s ready to keep expanding.
“I know the way a room looks impacts how I feel, and I know it matters,” she explains. “So, I infuse my creativity and intentionality into the spaces of women who need it the most.”
With her favorite helper in tow, Michelle brings three year-old Lucie to many of her volunteer outings. Lucie especially likes to go along to capture the “before” photos, and she enjoys all of the shopping and color coordination. “We make art together,” Michelle proclaims.
Michelle also intends to hire some of the women who are a part of the Homestretch program to work for funfunctional®. “I’m in conversations with the case manager of a local woman with two year-old triplets who is ready to work. It’s possible I’ll hire her this quarter when things get busy again after the baby shows.”
Michelle hasn’t had contact with Lucie’s father since she was two months pregnant. Rather than harbor resentment, Michelle has chosen to use her own challenging life experiences to inspire her creative vision and empower other women who are facing similar circumstances. She’s helping to heal hearts and homes, just like she did for herself. Michelle is living THE UP BEAT.
To learn more and make a donation to Le village stylists, visit: http://www.facebook.com/LeVillageStylists